On St Patrick's Day many people will be celebrating with a drop of the black stuff, followed by few calls to family and friends in Ireland. But if you're not careful, a few minutes of conversation to the Republic of Ireland on your mobile phone can be costly - something you might not realise until the bill arrives.

Here's our guide to making cheap international calls from the UK.

The UK networks

As long as you've got enough credit or minutes on your phone, you can make calls to countries around the world, but you'll be charged a standard rate by your network operator, which is often very expensive.

The following table shows how much you'll be charged by the UK mobile operators to call Ireland, Western Europe and the USA per minute.*T-Mobile customers who joined/moved to Pay monthly before Feb 2012 **/after 2012

 

Looking at the list above Orange offers the most competitive calls to Ireland and the USA on Pay Monthly, although Three is great value for calling Western Europe on PAYG and Pay Monthly.

In addition to standard rates above, all the networks offer packages to help bring down the cost of calling abroad, either on a regular basis or for the odd occasion or as a one-off.  We've listed these below, but the majority aren't usually included in your tariff, so you'll need to opt in by calling customer services. 


O2 

PAY MONTHLY

O2 offers an International Traveller Service (ITS) to Pay Monthly customers with an 80 per cent discount on overseas calls. So a call to Ireland costs 15p, Western Europe 18p and the USA 18p a minute. If your tariff has 600 minutes, then ITS is free, alternatively it's £3.06 a month extra. [link]

O2 also has International Favourites which is useful if you call the same numbers regularly, perhaps if you've moved to the UK, yet have family abroad. [link]

  • £10 a month gets you 3000 minutes to landlines and 100 minutes to mobiles, for three international numbers.
  • £20 a month gets you 3000 minutes to landlines and 200 minutes to mobiles, for five international numbers.

PAYG

O2 offers an International Sim to PAYG customers. Calls to Ireland cost 1p to landlines and 10p a minute to a mobile, while calls to the USA are even cheaper at 2p a minute. You also get free UK calls and texts to anyone on O2 with a £15 top-up. [link]

 

Orange

PAY MONTHLY

Orange Call Abroad is £2.56 a month, but the cost per minute to make calls drops by as much as 70 per cent. Calls to Ireland cost 15p to Ireland, 20p to Europe and 12p to the USA per minute. [link]

PAYG

Customers can get pay for an Orange Extra. £5 gets you 40 minutes of calls to countries including Ireland, France and the US, and must be used with a month. [link]

 

T-Mobile 

PAY MONTHLY

If you joined T-Mobile or moved onto a new price plan on or after 1 February 2010, you'll have a Flexible Booster included in your tariff, which can be swapped every month. For making international calls, choose between: [link]

  • Euro Talk & Text Booster - 17 minutes of calls, receive 39 minutes of calls and send up to 68 texts to Ireland
  • USA & Canada Talk Booster - 120 international minutes to  mobiles and landlines in USA & Canada
  • Europe & Australasia Talk Booster - 60 international minutes to call mobiles and landlines in countries like Australia, India and Ireland

Alternatively if you’re on The Full Monty tariff you can add a flexible booster for £5.10. The Europe & Australasia Talk Flexible Booster, offers 60 minutes of calls to mobiles and landlines in selected countries including Ireland. [link]

PAYG

T-Mobile offers a free International Pass to all PAYG customers. A call a landline in Ireland will cost 5p and a mobile 15p and calls to the USA cost 5p for mobiles and landlines. [link]

 

Three 

Three offers an International Saver Add-on to Pay Monthly customers, which is a good option for anyone who makes a lot of calls abroad. £15.32 a month gives 3000 minutes to Ireland (excluding mobiles) and the US. [link]

Vodafone

PAY MONTHLY

Vodafone International costs £5 a month to Anytime and Your Plan price plans, but then international calls are up to 97% cheaper.

Alternatively Vodafone Call Abroad is available on Pay Monthly plans, offering three options: [link]

  • £10 a month for 75 international minutes
  • £15 a month for 125 international minutes
  • £20 a month for 200 international minutes

PAYG
Opt into Vodafone International (above) for calls starting at 5p a minute. Alternatively, try the Vodafone International Freebee [link]

  • Top up £10 - £10 credit and 60 free international minutes
  • Top up £20 - £15 credit and 100 free international minutes
  • Top up £30 - £30 credit and 240 free international minutes

Note: It's worth remembering that each network splits the world up into zones, which vary in price. Western European countries are usually the cheapest and places like Afghanistan can be a lot more.

 

Specialist SIM card

If you make more calls abroad than to the UK, it's worth leaving the big UK networks and considering a SIM specifically designed for international calls. Lebara Mobile and Truphone are two such providers, offering cheap calls and texts for people who already have phones, so there are no free handses and your phone will need to be unlocked.  These tariffs are usually for calls and texts, rather than data - if there is a data allowance it’s usually very small. 

 

Lebara Mobile 

PAY MONTHLY
For a monthly amount you get a specific number of minutes to call mobiles or landlines. There’s no minimum contract, but a credit check in performed. [link]

Calls to Ireland

  • £10 for 100 minutes
  • £20 for 225 minutes
  • £30 for 350 minues
  • £40 for 500 minutes

Calls to the USA

  • £10 for 200 minutes
  • £20 for 450 minutes
  • £30 for 725 minues
  • £40 for 1000 minutes


PAYG

Lebara offers a free SIM that will work with any unlocked mobile. [link]

  • Calls to Ireland:  19p a minute to a mobile and 5p a minute to a landline
  • Calls to the USA: 5p a minute to a mobile and 5p a minute to a landline 

 

Truphone 

Truphone offers the Tru Sim for £19.99, which works in an unlocked handset and can be used when you go abroad for calling the UK. [link]

Calls to Ireland

  • 0.08p a minute for a landline
  • 0.20p a minute for a mobile


Calls to the USA

  • 0.08p a minute for a landline
  • 0.08p a minute for a mobile

With Truphone you can also add other numbers to the sim, multi-IMSI technology built into the phone means when you make a call the SIM detects who you are calling and displays the local number. That means if the person wants to call you back, they use that number. It costs £5 a month to add another number and you can choose either USA, UK and Australian numbers.
 

Apps


Rebtel

Android, iOS, BlackBerry, PC

Rebtel promises savings of 98% on international calls. The way it works is little more complicated so we'd suggest checking out the website first. But in essence it works by turning international calls into local calls.

Start by registering online and buying credit. To make a call enter the name of the person you want to call (they must live in one of 50 countries), and the website will generate a local phone number to call (which is also sent to your phone).  Dial that number and you’ll get through to the person you want to call. Ask them to call you back using the number displayed on the phone, stay on the line and you'll be connected. The international part of the call is free.

  • Ireland: 1.32p to call a landline and 12.79p a mobile/£10 gets you 758 minutes of calls to landlines, 78 minutes of calls to Eurcell, O2 and Vodafone and 60 minutes to other mobiles
  • USA: 99p to call a landline and mobile/£10 gets you 1010 minutes to a landline or  mobile


Skype
Android, iOS, Windows Phone

Skype lets you make free or cheap voice calls to other Skype users over WiFi, using either a mobile phone app or via a PC or Mac. If you’ve got a webcam you can use it to make video calls - a feature available to Apple iPhone, iPad and Android users.
If you're calling someone who already has Skype over WiFi then the call is totally free. Otherwise you can buy Skype Credit to make cheap calls to landlines and mobiles.

Ireland

  • 400 minutes: 0.7p a minute £2.99 a month
  • Unlimited UK and Ireland £3.99 a month
  • Unlimited UK, Ireland, US and Canada: £4.99 a month
  • Unlimited Europe: £4.99 a month

USA

  • 400 minutes: 0.7p a minute £2.99 a month
  • Unlimited United States: £3.99 a month
  • Unlimited UK, Ireland, US and Canada: £4.99 a month
  • Unlimited World inc UK, India and China: £7.99 a month

 

Top tips for calling abroad

  1. Contact your network to see if they offer any packages for making cheaps calling abroad.
  2. Work out what call package you need. Do you want to have long conversations? If so, pre-pay for some credit. But if you are making the occasional call it might be better to opt for a package with low cost per-minute calls.
  3. Check what zone the country you are calling is in, don't assume all of Europe costs the same to call.
  4. Always check if the call cost includes mobiles or a landline.
  5. If you are going to be making a lot of calls abroad, invest in a SIM designed especially for making calls. Either use it all the time or pop it in when you need it. Make sure your phone is unlocked though.
  6. If you will be calling the UK and a specific country abroard, look for a multi-IMSI SIM.
  7. To get truly free international calls, you'll need to use Wi-Fi, so encourage friends or family who live abroad to download Skype.